The Tradition of Giving Flowers as Gifts: How Did It Start?
Every year, millions of people around the world give each other flowers for Valentine’s Day, their birthday, or some other holiday. This behavior is an age-old tradition for expressing your true feelings to someone.
However, even though we have come to associate them with love and beauty, have you ever wondered how this tradition came about and who started it? If so, then this is the guide for you. With this in mind, here is your historical summary of the tradition of giving flowers as gifts: how did it start?
The Meaning Behind Flowers
Although the practice of giving flowers to someone you love generally expresses the same sentiment, people give certain flowers to communicate specific moods or feelings to others. The meaning behind a flower could be due to its color, its placement in a flower arrangement, or the history associated with that breed.
Other than love, people give out flowers to express sadness, gratitude, remembrance, and joy. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to keep track of all these different meanings.
You can thank your ancient relatives for starting this practice. European settlers from France and England discovered floriography in 18th century Turkey and brought it back to their home countries.
Floriography is the language of flowers, and it is a blanket term that encompasses all the different meanings behind floral varieties. These same settlers also brought floriography to a new country: the United States. Even though this is when giving flowers as gifts became popular in America, the tradition of floriography goes back much further than 18th century Turkey. In fact, this language actually dates back to ancient times, when our ancestors would use flowers for celebration, mourning, and love.
Floral History in Ancient Greece and Rome
If you are a fan of ancient Greek mythology, you may have noticed a common motif: flowers and their beauty. Colorful flowers fascinated the ancient Greeks, and you can find mentions of them and their alluring mysticism in the stories of Persephone and Hyakinthos.
Flowers played a central role not only in the myths of ancient Greece but also in their politics. The Greeks associated each type of flower with a particular god, such as Cupid and roses or Zeus and carnations. Since Zeus (Jupiter in ancient Rome) was the king of the Gods, ancient Greeks and Romans would give carnations to their rulers because carnations were “Jupiter’s Flower.”
Carnations were a popular choice for ceremonial offerings, but when a man asked for a woman’s hand in marriage, he would give her a rose because of Cupid. The ancient Greeks used flowers to denote goddesses on Earth, so if you received a rose, you were considered divine.
Since Greece is where most of our written records of ancient history come from, this is where most people say the tradition began. However, dating the tradition back even further than that is another plausible possibility.
The History of Flowers in Ancient Egypt
In addition to ancient Greece, ancient Egypt was another area that valued flowers immensely. As with the Greeks, ancient Egyptians also used flowers in their stories and rituals. For instance, before heading into a battlefield, pharaohs would adorn their chariots with flowers to receive protection from the gods.
Peasants also possessed carts of their own, and they would decorate them with any of the flowers growing near the Nile River. Egyptians used flowers similarly to the Greeks. Whether it be as a means of communicating affection to someone or worshipping the gods, ancient Egyptians loved flowers just as much as any other civilization.
However, one of their favorite flowers was the lotus. Records of Egyptian mythology show that the ancient Egyptians sang about the lotus and even held a celebratory feast specifically for this flower.
The meaning behind the lotus flower was extremely important to the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. They used the lotus to symbolize rebirth because the flower closes at night and opens each morning.
Furthermore, blue lotus flowers are highly aromatic, which is why the ancient Egyptians used them in perfume. They loved the scent so much that ancient paintings depict deceased relatives inhaling the lotus’s divine perfume. This little flower fascinated an entire civilization simply due to its enticing smell, behavior, and appearance.
Flowers as Gifts for the Victorian Era
Flowers continued to be popular gifts far beyond ancient times. Though their association with gods is what gave them their meaning, flowers became popular gifts during the Victorian Era for a different reason. People during this time were quieter and more reserved, so they gave flowers to express their emotions since emotional outbursts were a social faux pas.
This led the Victorians to develop new meanings for each kind of flower depending on the unique characteristics that each type possessed. As this practice grew in scale and detail, people started building whole bouquets around the sentiment they wished to express through flowers. The popularity of flowers reached its peak during the Victorian era when Queen Victoria began collecting them for her Royal Gardens.
Knowing the different meanings behind each flower type was essential for the Victorians because they used them to communicate all sorts of things. In addition, the style of bouquet that the flowers came in was another form of communication for the Victorians. All of these different meanings behind flowers and their arrangements were difficult to keep track of, so people wrote numerous guides and books on the subject of Victorian floriography.
The Gift of Flowers in the Present Day
European settlers in America brought the tradition of giving flowers as gifts from Victorian-era England to the newly founded United States. Many people still associate each flower type with meanings from the Victorian era, and you can buy them for this purpose from almost any flower shop.
Today, we aren’t nearly as dependent on flowers as communication devices as the Victorians were, but they still have a deep meaning when you give them as a gift. For instance, if you are on bereavement leave from your job, most companies would send you a corporate flower delivery to help you cope with loss.
Overall, flowers have an ever-present place in global history, and if you want to give someone the perfect gift, you should consider giving them a flower arrangement. This guide should be the definitive source if you ever need to look back on the tradition of giving flowers as gifts: how did it start?